How to Get On a Headhunter’s Radar

January 18, 2018, 11:30 AM UTC

Headhunters, especially those at the most elite firms—Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, Egon Zehnder, and Korn Ferry—may seem as mystical (and unapproachable) as they are often powerful. So how do you get their attention? That’s just what we asked them. Here, some smart advice.

➜ Look at the website and find consultants who seem relevant to your goals, then send each one a note (physical or digital) describing what you’re looking for and where. If you don’t get a response, it may be because you haven’t reached the right consultant. Make each message personal; even the top firms get letters and emails that begin, “Dear Recruiter …”

➜ Be realistic. The major firms tend to search for public company CEOs, directors, and other top executives. Are you really ready for such a job? “We’re inundated with inquiries, many from people who are completely off the mark,” says Alexis Stiles, a Spencer Stuart consultant. “Hyperbole has a place in life,” adds her colleague Jason Baumgarten, “but not in this letter. Show it to a friend first.”

➜ “Amplify your failures rather than sweep them under the carpet,” says Egon Zehnder CEO Rajeev Vasudeva. “Today if you’re not failing, it’s unlikely you’re going to be very successful.”

➜ Be an emotionally connected leader. “A lot of work we do is sourcing—talking to leaders about other leaders,” says Vasudeva. “If people are talking about you as someone who is investing in other people, you can be sure you’ll be getting a call from us.”

A version of this post appears as a sidebar in the article “How to Profit From the Ultra-Tight Job Market Right Now” from the Feb. 1, 2018 issue of Fortune.